Mexico to deploy federal forces in Michoacan conflict zone
The Mexican government has announced that federal troops will take over security in an area where vigilante groups and a drugs cartel are clashing.
The "self-defence groups" seized several small towns in the western state of Michoacan over the past week.
They say they are fighting for the freedom of their communities from the notorious Knights Templar cartel.
Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong urged the vigilantes to lay down their weapons.
But he warned that there would be no tolerance for those who continued fighting.
"Be certain we will contain the violence in Michoacan," he said after a meeting with state governor Fausto Vallejo in the regional capital, Morelia.
Mr Osorio Chong also encouraged the vigilantes to join the police forces.
But the leader of one of the "self-defence groups," Estanislao Beltran, rejected that offer.
"If we give up our weapons without any of the drug cartel leaders having been detained, we are putting our families in danger because they will come and kill everyone, including the dogs," said Mr Beltran.
On Sunday, more than 100 vigilantes seized the small town of Nueva Italia. There were brief exchanges of fire with members of the Knights Templar cartel.
Local police were searched and disarmed, and federal forces were nowhere to be seen.
Knights Templar drug cartel
- First emerged in 2011 as an offshoot of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel
- Takes its name from a Christian military order from the Middle Ages
- Claims to protect Michoacan residents from kidnappings, extortion and robberies committed by rival gangs
- Controls much of the methamphetamine and marijuana trade in western Mexico
Some months ago, a small number of federal police were deployed in Michoacan state.
The fertile farming area in western Mexico known as Tierra Caliente has been engulfed in a turf war between the Knights Templar and the New Generation cartel, from neighbouring Jalisco state.
The vigilantes say the army and federal troops have failed to guarantee the security of their families.
They say they are preparing an offensive against the Knights Templar centre of command, in the nearby city of Apatzingan.
The criminal gang has accused the vigilantes of having sided with the New Generation cartel, something they fiercely deny.
"What we are doing is fighting for the freedom of our families," Mr Beltran said.